Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Daisuke Matsuzaka made the final appearance of his 23 year career today.  He had burst onto the scene in 1998 with a spectacular performance for Yokohama High School in that year's Summer Koshien tournament.  He threw all 250 pitches in their 17 inning quarterfinal victory against PL Gakuen, picked up the win in relief the next day when Yokohama rallied from a 6 run deficit to beat Meitoku Gijuku in the semi-finals and then threw a no-hitter against Kyoto Shisho in the final a day later.  He was selected by three teams in the first round of the 1998 draft with Seibu winning the lottery for his rights over Nippon Ham and the Baystars.  

Japanese baseball history is littered with players who made a name for themselves at Koshien but never accomplished much in NPB, including Daisuke Araki, the player who Matsuzaka was named for.  Matsuzaka proved right out of the gate that he would not be one of those players.  He went 16-5 with an ERA of 2.60 in 1999, leading the Pacific League in wins and winning the Rookie Of The Year award.  He went on to lead the PL in wins in 2000 and 2001, strikeouts in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005 and ERA in 2003 and 2004.  He was named to the Best 9 three times (1999-2001), won seven Golden Gloves (1999-2001, 2003-2006) and won the Sawamura award in 2001.  He was named to the All Star team eight straight years from 1999 to 2006 although injuries kept him out of the games in both 2002 and 2003.  He helped the Lions win the Pacific League pennant in 2002 and the initial Pacific League Playoffs and the Nippon Series in 2004.

The Lions posted him following the 2006 season and the Red Sox won the bidding for him with a bid of over $51 million.  He went 15-12 in his first season in Boston, helping the Sox win the World Series, and followed that up with an 18-3 record in 2008.  Unfortunately, 2008 would prove to be the last season he was injury free and effective.  He moved on from the Red Sox following the 2012 season and started 2013 with the Cleveland Indians.  He joined the Mets after being released in mid-season and remained with them until the end of the 2014 season.

He returned to Japan for the 2015 season, signing a three year deal with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  His tenure with the Hawks was marked by injuries - he made only one start with the ichi-gun team in 2016.  The Chunichi Dragons gave him a tryout after he parted ways with the Hawks and signed him to a one year contract for 2018.  He had his best season in 10 years, going 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA, making the All Star team for the final time in his career and winning the Comeback Player Of The Year award.  He returned to the Dragons for 2019 but injuries limited him to only a couple games at the ichi-gun level and the Dragons declined to pick up his contract for 2020.

He returned to the Lions for the 2020 season but injuries have prevented him from pitching at any level for the last two seasons.  He announced in early July that he would retire at the end of the season.  

He was the starting pitcher for the Lions today against the Fighters which was fitting as the Fighters were his opponent in his first NPB appearance in 1999.  He faced one batter (Kensuke Kondoh) who he walked before leaving the mound to a standing ovation.  Here's the highlights from Pacific League TV:

In addition to his NPB and MLB appearances, Matsuzaka also suited up for the Japanese National Team in four major tournaments, the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.  He was the MVP of both WBCs.

Matsuzaka's injury issues over the past 13 years have somewhat obscured how big of a deal Matsuzaka was.  He literally has given his name to his age group - the Matsuzaka Generation refers to players born between April 2, 1980 and April 1, 1981.  With his retirement, Tsuyoshi Wada of the Hawks is the only remaining active player from the Matsuzaka Generation.

I've seen people disparage Matsuzaka's career but the way I look at it, the guy won a Koshien Tournament, a Nippon Series Championship, a World Series Championship, two World Baseball Classic championships and a Bronze Medal in the Athens Olympics.  I don't think he'd trade it for anything.

Here's a bunch of cards from his career:

1999 BBM #413

1999 Calbee #115

1999 BBM All Stars #A69

1999 BBM Lions 20th Anniversary #SL37

2000 BBM #30

2000 Upper Deck Sydney Olympic Games Japanese Team Cards #213

2001 Upper Deck #155

2002 BBM 1st Version #400

2002 BBM PL Champion Lions #L5

2003 Calbee #130

2004 BBM Nippon Series #06

2005 Calbee "Title Holder" #T-13

2006 Upper Deck WBC Inaugural Images #II-30

2006 BBM 2nd Version #555

2009 Topps WBC Redemption #10

2015 BBM Softbank 10th Anniversary #M09

2017 Epoch Hawks #04

2018 Calbee "Exciting Scene" #ES-11

2019 BBM 1st Version #275

2020 Epoch Lions Rookies & Stars #07

2021 BBM 1st Version #060

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